Not content with having the most played video game in the world, Riot Games are now determined to push eSports into the mainstream with the Season 3 ranking changes and League of Legends Championship series.
Recently, VP of eSports, Dustin Beck and Community eSports Manager, Whalen Rozelle spoke about the different elements and challenges involved in heralding this new dawn for eSports.
One of the first things they have to address is providing regular competitive matches:
“I think consistent programming has been lacking in eSports. There have been intermittent tournaments that occur every month or every couple of months, but being able to have appointment-based viewing for our viewers is something that we’re fired up about.”
“If you’re a fan of TSM or CLG, you can look ahead to weeks four and eight, and say, “Oh, they’re playing against CLG next at 5PM on Friday.” You can plan out your week or set up a viewing party or do anything else that traditional sports fans have the luxury of doing. It’s pretty exciting.”
As we saw in both the NA and EU Season 3 qualifiers, Riot has also invested heavily in dedicated arenas for these weekly matches. The NA matches are hosted by Riot themselves, but they have brought on producers with traditional sports backgrounds, such as the NFL and the Olympics. For the European LCS, Riot has partnered with ESL who are hosting the matches from their studio in Cologne, Germany.
So, regular programming and dedicated arenas is just the first step towards bridging the gap between eSports and regular sports. The next step is to make the game a viable career option for players.
“The cool thing about the structure of the league is that this is now a legitimate, viable profession for these guys. They no longer need to worry about playing in tournaments and playing for prize money or eyeballs for sponsorships. These guys are in the league. They’re going to be seen every week. They’re getting salaries that allow them to dedicate their career to playing League of Legends.”
So it may be a legitimate career if you’re in the LCS, but what about the teams who aren’t? How does an amateur team reach the point of playing the game professionally, making a regular and stable salary? This is reason for Riot introducing the new ranking system, in an effort to make the “path to pro” as clear as possible and again mimic league tiers in traditional sports:
“We want to create a structure from top to bottom where you have fun playing competitively. If you’re a Bronze player, or a Silver player like Dustin… (laughs) But also, we’re going to have the Challenger Tier, which will be the best of the best aspiring teams. You know exactly how to become a pro at this point. You can play Ranked team matches, get a Challenger Tier team, and then go to the MLGs and the IPLs and do well and qualify into the LCS. It’s a very direct, easy-to-understand path, which is something that eSports really needs to survive long-term.”
“An MLG or an IPL are still valuable partners of ours. We go black on the weeks that we have their tournaments. We go lights-off, and we send not only all of our League Championship teams to their event, but we also have an amateur segment of the tournament that you could think of as like the NCAAs. Top amateur teams are going to be competing for some legitimate prize money, as well as that golden ticket, that berth into the promotion and relegation matches.”
Like in traditional sports, Riot expects drama and storylines to emerge from having regular weekly matches. With most teams in the LCS moving into dedicated gaming houses, Riot will be able to provide fans with content not just within the game, but outside as well.
“When we’re able to focus on these guys outside of the game, that’s what’s going to be compelling. That’s going to be the cool thing. Like when you see Ocelote actually supporting his family with League of Legends. Things like that. Those human interest pieces are what’s going to get fans attached to certain players and certain teams. We also like drama, too. I don’t know if you saw the tournament last week, but a player on M5 did a pretty unsportsmanlike gesture towards the Korean team. It generates that drama. You like that in sports. Ron Artest is a bad boy, but a lot of people love him. Granted, he’s gone over the line a couple of times, but that kind of stuff is fun. Rivalries are fun. Rivalries don’t really exist that much right now. There’s CLG and M5. Those guys don’t really like each other. But now that these teams are going to be playing consistently over the course of a 10-week period, rivalries are going to start to be established. That’s really exciting for us.”
Finally, Riot are hoping that the format of the LCS will help evolve the metagame. The LCS schedule will be made up of single games, essentially a prolonged tournament group stage, leading up to the mid-season playoffs which return to the best of 3 and best of 5 format.
“You’re going to see new strategies. Teams are going to have to scout one another. It’s going to add a whole new element now that they’re single-game matches. It also helps people do appointment-based viewing. It’s hard to plan on catching a second best-of-three match because you don’t know if the prior one is going two games or three games.”
“I hope we’ll see more experimental team compositions. For the fans and for the people watching, that makes it fun and interesting. For the players it’ll drive the meta-game. If you follow the eSports scene, you’ll know that North America gets a bad rap for not innovating in the scene. I think our pro players are ready to take on that challenge and evolve the game from there. We’re hoping to see that. It’ll be exciting and fun to watch.”
So with these grand aspirations for Season 3, it appears Riot are very serious and focused on making League of Legends a sustainable eSport for years to come. They certainly have the viewership currently to do so, with League of Legends viewer numbers far surpassing the likes of StarCraft 2 and Dota 2 on Twitch.tv. But with the release of MOBA rival Dota 2 due sometime this year, Valve surely have plans of their own to match what will be an already established LCS. We will just have to wait and see what the future holds for both games.
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